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Zaheer gets down to business

Ahead of the Test series against England, India's pace spearhead is working hard at rediscovering his wicket-taking form. Sanjjeev K Samyal reports.

india Updated: Nov 11, 2012 10:34 IST
Sanjjeev K Samyal

As the players returned from the lunch break, a gentle breeze from the Arabian Sea had started to blow across the Brabourne Stadium. The sun had reached its highest spot and was beating down in full fury.

Usually, it's that time of the day when the first new ball starts to lose its shine and fast bowlers choose to take it easy, allowing the spinners to take centrestage. However, on Saturday, it was a period when India's pace spearhead Zaheer Khan was in the spotlight as he went all out in search of rhythm.

One of Zaheer's strengths is his understanding of his game. He's known to be a thinking bowler, who knows what works for him and, hence, when in trouble, can analyse and get out of the rut faster.

This ability was again to the fore, for he finally showed signs of returning to fitness and form after a listless Ranji game and an injury scare.

After an innocuous bowling spell on the opening day of the preparatory camp, he was a transformed bowler in the morning. The run-up was shorter, helping him charge to the crease faster and the jump in the delivery stride was shallow, building it up with the focus on getting the flick of his wrist right.

During the left-arm pacer's afternoon spell at the centre wicket, the India think-tank was all attention. Facing him was captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, head coach Duncan Fletcher had positioned himself in the slip area and the bowling coach was at the umpire's position. And, as Zaheer showed the tricks up his sleeve, the team management would have heaved a sigh of relief. They could see that the missing cog in the wheel was finally showing signs of falling in place ahead of the high-profile battle against the Englishmen.

Dhoni, who was batting with Ajinkya Rahane at that time, was kept on a tight leash with incoming deliveries, mixed with late away swingers.

Zaheer was the main positive to emerge on the second day of the camp, which got off to a full-fledged start with the emphasis on match simulation.

While pacers Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma may be fitter and bowling with more fire, it's Zaheer that Fletcher and Co will be desperate to have in the ranks in the battle against England.

This series is going to be played on brown, lifeless tracks, where the key periods of play will not be with the new ball but when the shine is off, and reverse swing comes into play. In Zaheer, they have one of the best exponents of the craft.

Ishant, the enigma
Looking at the signs from the nets, the hosts are likely to go in with a two-pace, two-spin attack for the Ahmedabad Test. If the team management is convinced that Zaheer can last the distance in the five-day game, then Ishant is likely to miss out.

The lanky fast bowler has become an enigma. He always possessed pace, but what brought him success when he started in 2007-08 was the ability to get the ball darting in off the seam. Even Ricky Ponting at his best was clueless to Ishant's snaking deliveries.

In the camp on Saturday, the Delhi pacer worked up decent speed but there was no sign of the feared incoming ball.

Umesh, on the other hand, has gone from strength to strength, and combines movement with pace. Here too, he has been the sharpest on view.